Patients are having to wait longer for hospital appointments because of new rules on junior doctors' working hours.

Some are having their appointments put back by six months or more because the new rules mean there are fewer people to run outpatient clinics at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.

Lilian Futcher, of Denham Road, Burgess Hill, who suffers from angina, was due to have an appointment at the cardiac clinic in January but received a letter telling her it had been put back to June.

Her husband John, 69, who also has heart problems, received the same letter from their consultant, Dr Jenny Metcalfe, and will have to wait six months.

In the letter, Dr Metcalfe apologised for the delay but she said she had no choice because new Government guidelines on the workings hours of junior doctors meant she would be running the clinic on her own.

The new guidelines stipulate that by 2003 no junior doctor must work more than 56 hours a week and they must also have enough rest between shifts.

Mrs Futcher, 57, said she knew of at least one other person who had his appointment put back until July.

She said: "John had his letter first and I said to him what's the betting I will get one - and lo and behold I got mine.

"This rota system means Dr Metcalf would be doing the clinic on her own. They are trying to cover but something needs to be done.

"They are doing their best but because they do long hours they can't do clinics on their own or they could make a mistake."

Mrs Futcher said the situation would only get worse as more homes were built around Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill and more people came to live in the area.

She said: "The doctors work such long hours it's unbelievable.

"The Government should get the funding right and employ new doctors. They can't expect a hospital to care for all these people.

"It is difficult for the doctors and staff and for patients and their families."

Richard Penney, spokesman for the Princess Royal and Mid Sussex NHS Trust, said: "There are numerous discussions taking place.

"We have not yet finalised the details with the relevant consultants but we are hoping the impact will be minimised."

Mid Sussex district councillor Anne Jones said: "It is alarming. They have to provide more junior doctors.

"My husband is a diabetic and his appointment is now only annually. A lot of diabetics have contacted me about the situation."